The 2010 FIFA World Cup begins on June 11 in South Africa, with the host nation taking on Mexico. This gives you very little time to pretend like you know anything about soccer! Well, for a start, you should call it “football.” But as for where to watch it, who to watch for, and what to know about all the storylines that will likely unfold, look no further then this A-Z Bluffer’s Guide to the World Cup.
A is for Adultery. England’s starting center back is John Terry, who is also their ex-captain. The “ex” is because he cheated on his wife with the ex-girlfriend of fellow England defender Wayne Bridge (she’s also the mother of his child). In the wake of the scandal, Bridge retired from international duty and Terry was stripped of the captain’s armband.
B is for Black Horse Pub. This Park Slope bar is a recent addition to the city’s football/drinking landscape. They’ll host a World Cup kick-off event on June 11.
C is for Cristiano Ronaldo. Averse to body hair, prone to tantrums, tabloid-girl-bingo champion (he has been linked with Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian), this Portuguese winger is one of the headlining acts of the Cup. For his former and current club sides (Manchester United and Real Madrid, respectively), he is nothing short of God-like. But he has not been able to replicate his form for his country. This year’s Cup could decide his legacy.
D is for Diving. Technically, it’s whenever a player goes to the ground at the slightest of contact. But some—Spain’s Sergio Busquets, Ivory Coast’s Didier Drogba, England’s Steven Gerrard—take it to Oscar-winning levels, acting as if they’ve been shot every time someone grazes their ankle.
E is for Eleventh Street Bar. Alphabet City pub, Liverpool FC stronghold, bound to be a good place to cheer on the England team.
F is for Favorites. The technically sumptuous Spain, the atypically pragmatic Brazil. But the Cup rarely goes according to plan, so look for a dark horse like Serbia, Uruguay, or Chile.
G is for Group of Death. The nickname given to the hardest group in the Cup. This tourney’s Group of Death is widely thought to be Group G, which features the Ivory Coast, Portugal, Brazil, and—the darkest of dark horses—North Korea.
H is for Hooker. Or Galway Hooker. This Midtown bar is pumped up enough for the Cup that they have a clock on their website counting down to the kick-off. Steal away from your cubicle for some midday libations and football.
I is for Ivory Coast. Pele has claimed that an African team will lift the cup this year. If he’s right, then the smart money goes on the Ivory Coast. The Elephants feature one of the best strikers in the world (Drogba, despite his broken arm), a squad of players seasoned in Europe’s top leagues, and an experienced coach in Sven-Göran Eriksson.
J is for Johannesburg. The first World Cup to be hosted by an African nation will see its final played in Johannesburg’s Soccer City stadium. The nearly-95,000-seat arena is the crown jewel of South Africa’s World Cup presentation. And while the build-up to the tournament has been littered with stories of corruption, work stoppages, and crime, Soccer City stands as an incredible achievement and a fitting venue for the final.
K is for Korea. Eight years after their magical push in the ’02 Cup, the Korea Republic team looks to go on another fairy-tale run. Less (a lot less) is known about the team playing for their neighbors to the north.
L is for Lionel Messi. This diminutive Argentinean forward demands hyperbole; announcers have compared him to Russian ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev or a character from Greek myth. Perhaps Real Zaragoza coach Jose Aurelio Gay put it best: “There are no words left to describe him. He is interplanetary.”
M is for Maradona, Diego. Former coke addict, veteran of stomach stapling surgery, has to duck Italian authorities over tax-evasion charges (they took his jewelry last time he was there!), happens to be one of the two or three best players to ever kick a ball, and now manages one of the most talented teams in the world. Upon qualifying for the tournament, he told the assembled press to “Suck it and keep sucking it,” and on his way to delivering the list of 23 players he’d be taking to South Africa, he ran over a photographer.
N is for Nevada Smith’s. Pretty much the epicenter of New York’s soccer-viewing, pint-swilling, song-singing, opposite-team-baiting scene.
O is for Outlaws. The USA’s band of traveling supporters. At a World Cup warm-up match at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Field, they were in full voice, singing the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army,” complete with bass drum and tuba accompaniment. Look for them during America’s opening match with England.
P is for Penalties. Seems harsh that a team would go through months of qualifier matches, a demanding squad-selection process, and travel all the way to South Africa only to perish in a penalty shoot-out. But that’s definitely going to happen to at least one unlucky nation’s side. A tip: Always bet on the Germans to excel and the Brits to choke if it goes to pennos.
Q is for Queens. With its wildly diverse population, Queens will be a great destination to take in Cup action. Check out Pizza Y Parrillada Boca Juniors Inc. in Elmhurst for Argentinean football and steaks. Or watch the Greeks at the Avenue Café in Astoria.
R is for Red Hook Ballfields. If you’re suddenly overcome with the delusion that you can pull off a step-over or launch a useful cross into the box, by all means take your dreams to the Red Hook Ballfields on the weekend. The Central and South American lads who play regularly will be happy to take your dignity.
S is for Samba. England may call itself the home of football, but Brazil is surely its soul. For a Cup-viewing experience that feels like Carnival, check out Felix or BarBossa on the Lower East Side.
T is for Tactics. Whether it’s the traditional English 4-4-2, the silky 4-3-3, or the brazen Chilean setup of 3-3-1-3, you’ll hear a lot about formations during the Cup. The slightest mistake or moment of inspiration in formation tactics can mean victory or defeat for a side.
U is for United States. After eking out a warm-up match victory in Philly against Turkey, things aren’t looking too stellar for the Americans. Leaky at the back and lacking clinical finishing up top, they’ll rely on their experience (they played very well, defeating Spain, in last summer’s Confederations Cup in South Africa) and athleticism to advance past the group stage.
V is for Vuvuzela Horns. When you find yourself lowering the volume on your television because it sounds like 10,000 bees have just simultaneously come across a honey factory and gone into heat, it will be because of the vuvuzela horns—a staple of the South African crowds and the bane of players and fans alike.
W is for WAGS. The charming acronym devised by the British press to describe “wives and girlfriends,” who took a lot of the blame for England’s less-than-inspired run in the 2006 World Cup in Germany. England’s new boss, Fabio Capello, has banned the ladies from South Africa. That’ll show ’em.
X is for Xavi. The Spanish midfielder doesn’t get as many plaudits as his Barcelona teammate Lio Messi. Xavi is a conductor, not a soloist. He is the beating heart and internal clock of the precise and poetic Spanish attack.
Y is for Yellow Cards. National rivalries—be it Mexico vs. USA, or England vs. Portugal—tend to bring out some chippiness in players. Expect to see plenty of sliding tackles above the ball, flagrant elbows in the penalty area, and maybe even a handball or two. When things get dirty, refs reach for a yellow card—two of them, and the player is out of the game.
Z is for Zinedine Zidane. This French legend’s headbutt into the chest of Italian defender Marco Materazzi is the lasting memory of the 2006 World Cup final. Despite Italy hoisting the Cup, it is the image of Zidane sullenly leaving the field after being issued a red card for his (some would say provoked) head-charge on Materazzi. We can only hope that these games provide us with such drama.